The daylight is already fading as I settle in to write this post. Autumn is upon us and another winter looms up ahead. It is time to get cosy; to be warm and quiet, curled up with a book and a cup of chai tea latte to keep out the chill.
I am in a reflective mood tonight. I really miss Pyewackett and as the nights draw in I feel his absence terribly. It has been just over six months since his death and I have been keeping busy and occupied, but as the dark season begins, it reminds me of how much I miss the day to day aspects of living with my cat. It has made me realise that I am grieving the loss of him.
Facing the void is never easy, yet the void inevitably follows on from a loss. This is true of any loss, whether it be the loss of a job, a divorce or break-up, or a bereavement. The void triggers our fears for the future, our anxieties and insecurities. It makes us question our identity, for who are we if we don't have that job, that marriage, that family member? The void is like a dark mirror, reflecting our own mortality back at us and forcing us to find an answer to the question What now?
Life is a cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Therefore, if your life has been touched by a death or a loss of some kind, it is only a matter of time before the rebirth takes place, although waiting for Life to labour a new beginning is a painful and frustrating process. It might seem as if a new start is way out of reach, but something has to come along to fill the void which the loss has left behind.
I frequently tell my clients to go easy on themselves, and in the past couple of days I have come to the conclusion that I need to take my own advice. There is no point pushing myself; reinvention simply doesn't happen overnight. Logically, I know this, but emotionally, I have been using my drive to move deeper into a viable counselling career as a way of avoiding my grief. Add to that my thyroid illness and traumatic stress, and it isn't really any wonder that I'm feeling tired and drained.
Part of it is the post creative come-down, which I have mentioned before in previous posts, and which occurs after a long stint of writing and the completion of a big project. Four years of studying has taken a lot out of me and not because the course was hard, but because we had a tutor who loved to treat us like puppets, constantly moved the goal posts at a moments notice and made things as stressful for us as he could get away with.
Trying to study under this kind of duress was almost impossible. I did as much work from home as I could manage and started to see the classes as just something to attend and get through - I didn't learn much from them because I don't respond to the brow-beating approach. I did what I could to distance myself from it as much as possible, even putting a filter on the constant barrage of tutor emails, but it still had a negative effect.
So part of my current fatigue is due to being in recovery from the onslaught I experienced in college. It isn't an experience I am eager to repeat, hence why I am taking a year off before I plan to do the MA. Even though the MA is held in a different university and by a different tutor, on a different topic - I still feel that I need this year long break. And the deep fatigue I am currently feeling confirms that theory.
Part of facing the void lies in letting go. You have to let go of what you have lost before you can move on, though this is easier said than done. But there is also another kind of letting go - that of surrender and I think that is where I am at right now. I feel ready to let go and surrender, just to wait and see what life has in store for me next. I have always been blessed with the right kind of opportunities when I needed them, and I have no doubt that this will continue. The right opportunity for psychotherapy work will come to me - probably when I least expect it. I trust that this will be the case, as it always has been before.
In the meantime my body is telling me that I need to rest; my mind is telling me that I need to rest and refill the creative well with new sights, sounds and experiences. I need Artists Dates and days off from writing, so that I can nurture new ideas instead. I need to relax and read and dream once more, without guilt or anxiety pushing in and spoiling things.
My Highland holiday later on in autumn will be just what I need - a complete escape and a much needed change of scene. The sea and mountain air of the Highlands always rejuvenates me and inspires me; the sound of the bagpipes makes my heart lift and I am so much looking forward to being back in Scotland once more. It is the place where I feel most free; where I am most understood. And who wouldn't enjoy time spent in a land of stolen kisses from handsome kilted men?
Until then I plan to read, rest and recuperate; to let go of control a bit and stop pushing for my future; to wait for my future to just turn up with a new opportunity, when the time is right and I am strong enough to accept it and do a damn good job of it. So mote it be.
Someone once referred to me as a "Jack of all trades...and master of none!" when in fact I have always been an entrepreneur. On the surface they probably thought they were making an accurate assessment of my life, but the truth is that I have never been content to be a hamster on the wheel of life - I frequently jump off and go and do something else instead.
I suppose it comes down to having an entrepreneurial mentality. I think in terms of possibility and I am not afraid to follow my dreams, even if this means taking a step backwards and starting again. I am not scared to be a beginner. I thrive on it because it means that I am learning something new and that makes me happy. I am not too proud to do a part time job to pay the bills, while getting a new venture off the ground, because I know what my ultimate goals are and where I am heading. I am not too proud to work for free in order to learn a new role and create a new network of business associates.
Running a small business isn't an easy option, in any line of work, but as a writer it is difficult because there are trends, variables and lead times to take into account. That's why it's important to have as many outlets as possible - although some editors will only work with writers who don't also write for their competitors, which makes this even more challenging.
But why would you settle for doing one thing when you can do several? Why settle for one single source of income when you can generate several sources of income and have them flowing into your business? This is why entrepreneurship is so appealing to creative people. They can work from home, or in their spare time, so the business overheads are minimal; they can take their time to grow their business at a steady rate, though sometimes you will have more work coming in than you reckoned on. They can set cash aside for the lean times. It just makes sense to think of yourself as an entrepreneur and while some people might not understand it, if you hold that view of yourself you will be more likely to see new opportunities when they come along, because you will have developed the right frame of mind for success.
Finding ways to make money while you sleep is a key factor in being an entrepreneur. For writers and musicians etc, this means royalties. Royalties accumulate for work we did years ago; it is the easiest form of income for creative entrepreneurs, though you have to have published a body of work to get to that stage. For others, it might mean selling via an online shop, or offering online study courses - anything where people from different time zones can do business with you as you sleep.
Waking up to a royalty check is one of the best parts of being a writer. It means that your work is still selling; that readers are still enjoying it; that the publishers are still happy they offered you a contract! In lean times, it can be a vital means of survival, while in prosperous times it could mean a little treat, such as a writers holiday or new research books. Royalties can pay for college courses allowing you to further your knowledge or expand your business in a new direction, which in turn will generate more income.
The trick is to forget about what other people might say about you - just do what makes you happy and what gets you closer to your long term goal. If that means flipping burgers for 5 years while you finish a degree you're passionate about, then so be it. If it means reducing your hours at work so that you can actually write your screen play rather than just talk about writing it, then that is what you need to do.
Creative entrepreneurs rarely have only one job title! We diversify and acquire new skills as we go. I started out as a content provider for correspondence schools. Now I'm a content provider, author, journalist, recording artist, blogger and counsellor. Lots of different hats that require slightly different skills, but all of which fit together like a jigsaw, into the framework of my business.
Is it easy, juggling all these balls? No, not always. It can be tough and stressful at times, especially when something isn't working as quickly as I would like it to. But it means that when one area is slowing down in terms of generating income, I have other areas I can concentrate on instead. As an entrepreneur you give your time to that which is generating the best income, or to the area that needs nurturing into a new source of income.
So for me, that means continuing to write, while also building on my new role as a counsellor, which itself can be broken into two branches - counselling practice and writing psychotherapy pieces. At the moment counselling practice isn't generating income and I work for free at my placement in order to gain valuable work experience and create a network of associates. This won't always be the case and at some stage I will be getting paid for the counselling sessions I offer.
Writing about psychotherapy topics however, has already generated income and is the direction in which I am taking my writing business for the time being. This is where I focus my time and attention, because it brings in money and it moves me closer to my goal of being a psychotherapy writer, in much the same way that I have been a Mind, Body, Spirit writer for all these years.
That is the beauty of entrepreneurship - it changes and evolves with you. It doesn't limit you in any way. It isn't a rigid job description that defines you, like say for instance Nurse or Administrator. You can craft your entrepreneurship into whatever you want it to be and wear as many different hats as take your fancy - there are no limits! It doesn't define you - you define it.
This freedom was something I kept in mind when I had to think of a name for my business so I could register as self-employed years ago. I knew I wanted a business name that didn't define a single aspect of my work, but one that could be applied to all aspects of my work, in the present and in the future. I would recommend this practice to anyone who thinks that they might expand into future developments or who has several creative interests they want to make into a viable business. Choose a business name that is generic. There is little point calling yourself Lucy's Candles if further down the line you want to sell cupcakes instead!
I suppose what I am trying to say is that if you begin to see yourself as a creative entrepreneur it doesn't matter if you work part time in a fish and chip shop. That's just paying the bills, freeing your mind to focus on your creative enterprise, whatever it might be. As an entrepreneur you can be and do anything you like - take that night class, write that blog, start that You Tube channel, paint your masterpiece, open up a boutique selling sun hats for Chihuahuas...the possibilities are endless. The only limits are the ones you place upon yourself. So why wouldn't you see yourself as an entrepreneur? Yes it can be tough and financially precarious, but it's a life of endless possibility and that can only be a good thing.
The new academic year begins this week, but not for me, since I have now finished my four year diploma - thank goodness! For the first time in five years I am not going back to college in September. I can't say that I will miss it. On the contrary, it is nice to finally be free of 4 1/2 hour long lectures, bombastic rhetoric and autocratic leadership from belligerent faculty members. I'm glad I did the diploma, but I am not sorry that it's over.
Although I won't be returning to classes, I don't want to lose the habit of learning. I really enjoy studying, but I am a very autonomous person and I work best when working alone, in a quiet environment. This wasn't always possible during the diploma - much of it involves group work and sometimes the groups would get so loud I'd have to leave class and nip to the ladies for a few moments peace, just to clear my head. Every Tuesday night I would leave college with a raging headache...just another aspect of night school that I don't miss.
The good thing about being a member of the BACP is that they frequently advertise further courses in their journal Therapy Today. This is to encourage counsellors to pursue CPD or Continued Professional Development. These courses are aimed at clinical practitioners working as counsellors, either in private practice, or with an organisation such as Cruse Bereavement Care, and some of these courses are delivered online.
This type of online learning really suits me because I can study at home in my own time, as and when I want to. I am not held to a strict timetable of classes that I must attend, no matter what. I can just go into my cosy little study, light a couple of scented candles, fire up the laptop and log on to the course module I am currently working on. At the end of the course, if I have passed, I get my certificate in the post. And as so much of my college diploma was put onto Google Classroom anyway, some weeks it hardly seemed worth going into class at all!
Home studying has always appealed to me. In my early twenties I took correspondence courses in creative writing and freelance journalism. At the time, my ex-fiance thought they were a complete waste of money - he thought I'd been conned and we had a huge row about it, even though it was all my own money that I used to pay for them! But then, I soon made my living as a freelance writer, author and journalist, so I guess the courses worked!
Some of the first full length writing I ever had published were home-study courses for BSY and The Regent Academy - both leading correspondence schools here in the UK. I wrote their courses on Wicca and Angels which are still selling well, all these years later. It was a way for me to give a little bit back - correspondence courses had helped to get me published, so it was a natural step for me to take, to write magical correspondence courses that in turn would help others.
So even though I am not returning to college this month I am already deeply involved in more course work. I am undertaking more training in different kinds of counselling, namely in counselling clients with PTSD. I have really enjoyed this course and I have learned such a lot from it. I am looking forward to getting my certificate for it, as it will add to my portfolio. For now its enough to know I've done the course. Between that, my formal education diploma in Therapeutic Counselling and the certificates I have in Grief Counselling and Business Etiquette, my CPD is looking good so far.
Studying something that interests you, in the comfort of your own home, is a lovely way to spend an evening as the nights begin to draw in and autumn is upon us. I have my Placement Report to start writing soon, plus I will be taking another online course in the winter months. I also have tasks to complete with regards to moving my writing career from MBS, over into mainstream self-help and psychotherapy projects...but that's another blog post!
Remember that you are your own educator and nowadays learning is so accessible there really is no excuse for boredom or ignorance. So grab a cup of hot chocolate, light an autumnal candle and join with me in embarking upon a dark season of home study, because...
I am a woman who can't say Yes. There are plenty of women who can't say No - they find themselves taking on too much, being overstretched in their commitments and a victim of their own generosity. They pride themselves on 'multitasking' while looking harried and strained and never actually finishing or achieving very much at all. That's just not me.
I'm the opposite. I can't seem to say Yes to save my life! I have this knee-jerk reaction to say No - even when it's something I want to do; even when I know it's exactly what I need; even when I am fully aware that the opportunity might never come around again...and in a way, I'm almost glad of that because it gets me off the hook!
I read about this in a book recently; I think it was one of the Good Psychopath books, where this inability to say Yes is referred to as resistance bias. So apparently, it's an actual thing and not just one of my quirky little ways. Other people do it too. Who knew? It stems from a lack of trust in others and is a lingering aspect of traumatic stress, which makes perfect sense, because saying No all the time will certainly keep you safe.
This resistance bias means that I don't allow myself time to assess the situation and weigh up the pros and cons before I respond - I just say No, often before I'm even fully aware of what I am rejecting. Of course, there have been times when resistance bias has done it's job and has kept me safe. Like the time I said no to a weekend away with someone I barely knew - I mean why would I say Yes to that?! Why would an honourable man even expect me to say Yes to that? - he wouldn't, and so his true colours shone through and muddied the water completely. He lost my trust before he'd even won it! Though truth be told, I was probably too harsh on him in my refusal at the time. But I'm just not that fast. I'm more of a 'slow and steady wins the race' kinda girl. If you can't be bothered to take the time to get to know me properly and honourably, then you're just not the man for me and I'm certainly not the woman for you. Simple as that.
However, there have been other times when I have said No and then kicked myself - hard - afterwards. Times when I have basically slapped Opportunity in the face and couldn't see the gift that it was at the time, because my over-triggered survival instinct had immediately logged it as a Big Threat, and was protecting me accordingly. It is only later, once the trigger has deactivated, that I realise what I have passed up and missed out on. Sometimes we can be so busy trying to hide away from perceived threats that we fail to see all the good stuff too, walking past it blindly and then sobbing into our wine glass that "Nothing good ever happens to me!"
So it would seem that resistance bias and my inability to say Yes is a form of self-sabotage; a way of shooting myself in the foot so that I don't have to dance with the handsome stranger, because then I might fall in love with him and he might turn out to be a rat and then I might get my heart broken and never be happy again...like ever. Oh the perceived catastrophe of it all! But that's exactly what it is - a perceived catastrophe - because none of it has actually happened yet and my imagination has just made it all up...to keep me safe from something that wasn't even a real danger...to keep me in my comfort zone.
The mind is a powerful thing. It can play tricks on you if you let it. The moment you try to step outside of your comfort zone the brain gets scared and prepares itself to do battle. It throws up impostor syndrome and resistance bias to make you hot-foot it back into your comfort zone. It amplifies your negative self-talk of how you don't deserve the job, the man, the house etc, so that after a while, you might start to believe it to be true. But it isn't true. You deserve to be the best that you can be in all things, in all aspects of your life.
They say that you teach best that which you most need to learn. For the past six months I have been teaching my clients to see the possibility of life again, following bereavement; to believe that there is a world of adventure out there just waiting for them to participate. And it hasn't escaped my notice in the therapy room that I am also teaching myself these things too. Helen Keller said
"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing"
Now if a woman who was blind, deaf and dumb could believe in the great possibility in life, surely there's hope for all of us! Even those of us who keep rejecting it out of habit.
I have decided that it is long past time to get a grip on my No-ing ways. It is time to actively seek to expand the parameters of my life; to make it bigger, bolder, brighter than ever. It is time to try and break the knee-jerk habit of saying no and to start saying Yes again. Yes to new work options; yes to new experiences; yes to new places and people and pleasures; yes to new adventures.
Because in saying No all the time I'm just letting the PTSD get the better of me. In saying No I am depriving myself of all that life has to offer. So from now on I am going to challenge myself to say Yes to things. I'm going to turn it into a game, to see how many things I can say Yes to each day, from the little things like a cup of coffee, to the big things like a new job or a new romance.
It's not going to be easy - breaking a bad habit never is - but now that I know it is just a bad habit and where it stems from, I'm hoping that will help me to go against my current grain and find a new way to live life; to find my sense of joyfulness and shine it out into the world once more. And all I have to do is...